The Department Of Education Issues Preliminary Guidance Regarding Violence Against Women Act

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The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) issued preliminary guidance last week regarding the anticipated regulatory changes that will be required to implement legislation, signed by President Obama in March of this year, reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).  Among other things, the VAWA requires institutions of higher education to implement a number of new requirements to maintain compliance with the Clery Act. 

More specifically, the VAWA adds “domestic violence,” “dating violence,” and “stalking” to the crime categories that must be reported under the Clery Act.  It also adds “national origin” and “gender identity” to the list of hate crime categories that must be reported under the Clery Act.  The VAWA further requires institutions to publish in their Annual Security Reports information about internal policies and procedures designed to address conduct that constitutes domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking.  This legislation also mandates that institutions offer “primary prevention and awareness programs” that provide information about sexual assault and other forms of sexual violence, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking.  Like the DOE’s April 2011 Dear Colleague Letter regarding Title IX as it applies to alleged or suspected sexual assault and sexual violence, the VAWA includes standards for investigating and resolving suspected or alleged domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking.   

The DOE’s recent preliminary guidance instructs institutions that, beginning with the Clery Act Annual Security Report due in October of 2014, institutional Annual Security Reports must contain the new information required by the VAWA. Because the regulations implementing the VAWA have yet to be adopted, the DOE’s guidance states that, until final regulations are issued, the DOE “expects that institutions will exercise their best efforts to include statistics for the new crime categories for calendar year 2013 in the Annual Security Report due in October of 2014.”  The guidance also acknowledges, however, that the DOE understands institutions “may not have complete statistics for the year when the statistics must be issued and reported to the Department.” 

In sum, the VAWA will require institutions of higher education, in advance of October 1, 2014, to (i) begin collecting data about new categories of crimes and (ii) review their current policies and procedures to determine what changes are required to comply with the VAWA.  This also provides another strong incentive for institutions to ensure that their policies and procedures are in compliance with Title IX in light of the DOE’s April 2011 Dear Colleague Letter regarding Title IX.